According to this article,Canon Mark Hocknull has spoken out criticising the “you don’t have to go to church to be a Christian” or the “I’m spiritual but not religious” attitude prevalent in today’s society. He suggested that this showed a selfishness and the depth of public disdain for Christianity.
I was discussing with a friend recently the problem that Christianity faces when confronted with a pluralistic and post modern society in which each and every view is valid and to assert a monopoly on truth can be seen as a heresy in its own right. If we truly believe that, “no man comes to the Father” except through Christ, then does this mean that we deny the evident good – and I would say the presence of God – in other faiths? Do we happily agree with those who tell us that they are Christians but don’t go to church? Do we accept people who see themselves as spiritual rather than religious? What about those who no longer believe in the devil or the virgin birth – or even the divinity of Christ and are there any limits?
You may have already guessed that I am pretty post modern – the title of this blog is Significant Truths (plural) not truth ( singular) – but I do think the way we respond to a post modern society is something we increasingly struggle with. Many Christians and Churches do not want to be too prescriptive or controlling, it is important to accept people at the stage they are at in their journey and to recognise people will bring different levels of understanding or approach, at the same time it is important to retain the distinctive nature of what makes us Christian and some common boundaries.
I suppose one of the problems with the sentence above is that ideas about “the distinctive nature” of Christianity may differ so much that finding common ground can be difficult, and that is often just among ourselves, let alone when reaching those from a secular background with very vague ideas about the Christian faith. To some people you are not really a Christian, for example, if you do not believe the bible is inerrant (that rules me out) or perhaps if you do not believe in a personal devil. This approach brings security, but it can be stifling and exclude. I would really hesitate to judge whether anyone else was a “real” Christian (that’s the kind of fuzzy liberal I am folks) but I would not personally feel that I was a Christian if I did not believe Jesus was the Son of God and died and rose again. I do see this pretty basic tenet of the Christian faith and am quite happy to defend that view as entirely reasonable!
So can you be a Christian and not go to Church? Is it better to be “spiritual” than religious? Is God bothered about your rigorous and carefully worked out Christian beliefs, or more that you love God and your neighbour? Is a Christian just someone who says that that is what they are?
And for a bit of light relief – let’s hope Canon Hocknull’s frustrations don’t lead him to this...